UnRule #2: Breath First (4:54 audio)

Un-Rule #2: Breath First

Every yoga teacher in the world will tell you that the most important aspect of practice is breath. “Breathe” is probably one of the most commonly uttered cues in any yoga class. We all have heard it, probably thousands of times out of the mouths of yoga teachers everywhere, both in classes and on podcasts. And, as good follow-the-leader students, we listen, and follow, and breathe every time we are told. Yet, we forget. And forget. And forget yet again. 

In yoga classes, teachers tell me to prioritize my breath, but every time a teacher tells me to do something else, I focus on that, and forget about breathing. And then she’d tell me to breathe. But then I would forget about whatever physical cue she had just given so I could breathe. Evidently multi-tasking is not my strong suit.

The first time I actually spent the WHOLE practice paying attention to my breath didn’t happen in a class with a teacher. It happened during a phase in my home practice when the majority of my practice was sun salutations. 

My favorite teacher had once suggested I try a set of ten consecutive sun salutation Bs doing every movement on one breath. The first several times I tried this, I caught myself trying to catch my breath by halfway through the set. Of course, this made me think that I was extremely out of shape. When it wasn’t getting any easier after nearly two weeks, I figured I had to be doing something wrong. And then, one morning, something miraculous happened. I got on my mat feeling particularly heavy after a rather sleepless night. I just couldn’t push myself, so while I still committed to doing ten sun Bs, I had to slow them down, a lot. By the third one, I noticed something drastically different was happening. 

Instead of my breath keeping up with my body, my body was following my breath. As I inhaled, my torso felt like it was inflating, floating up. And as I exhaled, I felt everything deflate, surrender, get pulled down. I literally felt like my breath was making my body move, and everything was EASY! Before I knew it, I had floated through not just ten, but over a dozen sun salutations, without once losing my breath or pace. I fell into a cadence and rhythm that was driven by how my breath fed my heartbeat. 

After somewhere between 15 and 20 sun salutations, I paused in mountain pose, and literally felt like I was both on top of the mountain and embodying the mountain at the same time. It was one of those magical unexpected moments on the mat that I will never forget. I not only intellectually understood the concept of breath being important, but I also embodied it. I became the essence of breath. It was almost as thought I could feel the higher infusion of oxygen in my bloodstream. I was high on my own breath! 

I continued to move through a full-practice, feeling into almost every pose I knew, breath leading me. I got into arm balances and binds that I had never been able to access before. Backbends and shoulder openers that I had only before experienced as painful felt more than good. They felt great! I held poses for longer, enjoying them more. I lost track of time, and played in this new Yoga Wonderland space for what turned out to be over four hours. And, I wasn’t sore the next day!

From that practice forward, every single pose I do starts with breath, and the action of my body parts follow in a sort of cause and effect. My practice continued to slow down as my breath found a depth I didn’t know possible. It was also around this time that I became addicted to my home practice, craving it, anxious to hit my mat every day. I even went a solid year without going to class without even really missing the studio classes at all.

Within the span of a month or so another magical thing happened, I realized everything I was doing felt really good. We all know that post savasana yoga bliss feeling that happens. Well, multiply that by at least ten, if not a hundred, and apply it to every single pose! Every teacher had always told me that breath was the most important, but it wasn’t until I practiced alone that I really understood what that meant.